Archive for the ‘Camping’ Category

A Whopper south of Westby   14 comments

My son Bode (Bo-Dee) and I took an overnight trip to the Driftless on Friday and Saturday and enjoyed ourselves very much. We set out after I got home from work Friday, picking up some provisions in Viroqua before heading to Avalanche to camp.

On the way we passed a few Amish buggies pulled by horses, and some Amish farms where we were greeted by waves and smiles as we zoomed by in our car. Bode had never seen any Amish buggies or farms before and was curious to know what it was all about. I explained it as best I could and he was fairly fascinated, as a boy who likes to make what he can by his own hand, at the lifestyle and talents of the Amish.

We enjoyed a quiet night camping in Avalanche and woke up at six on Saturday to go fishing. Bode was using a spinner while I walked along with him, fly rod in hand. We got to the next plunge pool upstream, the water still churning brown from days of rain. He made several nice casts to the top of the pool when suddenly his line tightened. He initially thought he had snagged something but then began cranking the reel. His line danced, but in the way Andre the Giant might dance, more deeply rooted than ephemeral.

Bode, having had very few large fish on the end of his line previously, cranked and cranked his reel until the spinner was an inch from his rod tip. The fish revealed itself in the surface film and we both let out a hoot.

This fish was one that many fishermen don’t get the chance to catch in a Driftless stream, and Bode had gotten one a few days past his twelfth birthday, in the first half hour of fishing.

Wow! Way to go Bode!

 

Bode with a 21" male Brown Trout, caught in a Vernon County spring creek.

Bode with a 21″ male Brown Trout, caught in a Vernon County spring creek.

 

 

Brule River – Autumn 2013   2 comments

The Brule was a cruel mistress this fall, at least to our troupe of fishermen. We spent four days on the water, from November 7-10, and managed to land one single Steelhead. More on that to come, but for now, the money shot!

 

A Beautiful wild female Brule River Steelhead

A Beautiful wild female Brule River Steelhead

 

 

Musky on the Fly   1 comment

Last weekend I got to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I began fly fishing. A Musky on the fly.

Stephen Rose and I headed up north to Hayward Friday afternoon and after a long but pleasant drive we ended up at the Boulder Lodge.

 

Boulder Lodge near Clam Lake, WI

Boulder Lodge near Clam Lake, WI – Click the image to go to their website.

 

What’s great about camping at this place is they have a nice bar and grill, so camp meals are as easy as throwing ten or twenty dollars on the table and digging in. It’s also on Ghost Lake, as sparsely populated, tamarack-lined northern lake filled with Musky and Walley. You can rent a boat for the day and have at it if that’s your pleasure.

Saturday morning we met up with our guide, Brad Bohen. If you haven’t heard of Brad Bohen, you haven’t been paying attention to the art of pursuing Musky with fly gear. Brad grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin and spent a lot of time visiting a local fly shop there, learning to tie flies and getting after Trout, Bass, and other species with his fly rod. Summers offered him the chance to get up north where he chased Musky with traditional spinning gear. He learned to captain a drift boat in Montana, spending his college years in Bozeman. All of these experiences have added up to a man who knows how to get fish to chase whatever you’re throwing.

 

Brad Bohen with a toothy beast. Click the pic to go to MCO's website (and book a guided trip with Brad for chrissake's).

Brad Bohen with a toothy beast. Click the pic to go to MCO’s website (and book a guided trip with Brad for chrissake’s).

 

We stopped in Clam Lake for some breakfast at the Elkhorn Lodge, so named because Clam Lake is home to Wisconsin’s biggest Elk herd, one-hundred and eighty of them. And you can see signs of Elk everywhere. Literally. There are signs along Hwy 77 with blinking yellow lights warning you that there are lots of Elk around and that you’d be best served slowing down a bit so you don’t end up with one through your windshield.

Brad told us a story of working upriver with two clients one day and hearing Elk bugling up ahead. “How cool” everyone thought, that there were Elk nearby. They rounded a bend and heard the sound of antlers cracking together. “Wow, there are a couple of bulls fighting” everyone thought. Then they rounded another bend and into view came these two fully antlered rutting bull Elk, sparring with each other right in the river while a dozen cow Elk watched nearby. Incredible.

After breakfast with headed out to Brad’s truck, towing a sweet Towee Skiff. How cool is Brad’s rig?!

 

Brad Bohen's '88 Land Cruiser pulling a Towee Rivermaster Skiff. Click to go to the Towee website. Copyright Towee Boats.

Brad Bohen’s ’88 Land Cruiser pulling a Towee Rivermaster Skiff. Click to go to the Towee website. Copyright Towee Boats.

 

We headed off and Brad gave us a rundown of the plan for the day. Well, there really wasn’t a plan aside from “We’re gonna go to a boat landing and put in the boat and head up river and fish a lake or two, and we’ll drift the river for a while and see if we can run into any toothy monsters.” I paraphrased, but that’s about the jist of it.

And that’s just what we did. Except it wasn’t like we were just anywhere, we were exactly “nowhere”, for all intents and purposes. It felt like we were in Alaska, basically, motoring (with a jet outboard – Coolup a winding river bounded on all sides by reeds and bogs and forest, and starkly planted in what felt like wilderness. It was really something. I hope you get to experience it someday.

Musky fishing, as everyone has heard, takes a lot of patience. Trout fishing is fast-action in comparison. With trout you can have off days, sure. But once you get the hang of it, and learn where to fish and what to look for, chances are pretty good that after an hour or two you’ll find some fish.

Musky fishing is all about prospecting. The stretch of river we fished, which was described by Brad as some of the finest Musky water in the world, contained, in his estimation, around a dozen Musky per mile. Compare that with estimates of trout density in Wisconsin’s Driftless trout streams, commonly described as having 1,000 trout per mile.

That should give you some perspective.

Brad uses nine and ten weight fly rods that are nine feet long, and he throws flies that look more like Stephen Tyler hairpieces than insects. They’re made to mimic baitfish or small mammals or ducklings. Stephen and I hucked these flies for and hour, then two, in lakes, among lily-pads, riverbends, hidy holes, while Brad rowed and coached and talked of amusing and inconceivable anecdotes of guide-trips past.

And then, a big toothy maw rose from the deep tanin-stained waters to decimate Stephen Rose’s fly, mere feet from the boat. Stephen did a good job setting the hook, not with a trout set (lifting the rod tip) but with a quick backward tug of the line with his left hand. These fish have mouths made of tooth and bone, and to keep one on your line, a fierce hook set is required.

With Brad’s help, Stephen landed his first fly-caught Musky and was on the board!

 

Stephen Rose and Brad Bohen with Stephen's Musky, caught on a fly.

Stephen Rose and Brad Bohen with Stephen’s Musky, caught on a fly.

 

We drifted downriver a bit longer and then took the boat out and headed downstream to bigger water.

In Northern Wisconsin boat landings are sometimes suspect. The boat landing Brad used to put his boat in the water that afternoon could better be described as a series of steps about five feet wide, with bushes and signs on either side, terminating in a large, half-submerged boulder strategically placed to wreck your boat as you lower it from your trailer into the water. Below is a picture showing the general look of the place.

 

Nice Boat Landing!

Nice Boat Landing!

 

As he was preparing the boat for launch Brad was telling us how the highway department had put in a nice brand new bridge just downstream (upper right corner of the photo) two years earlier (right over a set of rapids), and why hadn’t they included a reasonable boat landing in the project. I was looking around thinking to myself “there isn’t a boat landing, as far as I can see.” But Brad started backing his boat up toward a gap between two bushes with a boulder at the bottom and I thought to myself, “Our day of fishing will be over soon, after Brad destroys his boat in a few minutes.”

Well, he didn’t destroy his boat. In fact it was an artful jig he danced, getting the boat in the water without batting an eye. It’s like he’d done it many times before. City slicker me should have known better than to be concerned.

We tooled upriver with jet outboard humming along and Brad positioned us in all the likely places. After a while, after fishing in a very likely spot for a spell, the water surrounding my fly exploded. I set the hook and pulled the fish in. A pike.

Only after I found out it was a pike did I feel even the slightest bit of disappointment. It was a predatory fish that looked a lot like a Musky. The take was all kinds of pissed off. There were plenty of teeth. It made my heart race. So I was happy to have had some action, but that happiness was tempered with the fact that I hadn’t caught a Musky.

 

Tom and Brad with Pike.

Tom and Brad with Pike.

 

We fished enjoyably for an hour more, maybe two, and then it was time to get back on the road. Brad was heading out of town but offered to set us up with two rods to use for the evening and into Sunday if we were inclined. Yes, we were.

Back at the campground we said our farewells with promises to keep in touch and fish again together sometime. Thanks a bunch, Brad. It was a super cool outing and I’ll never forget it!

Later that evening, after a great dinner at the Angry Minnow in Hayward, Stephen and I went back to the Boulder Lodge and decided to fish the creek below Ghost Lake. We did everything Brad had taught us that day, and look how it worked out…

 

Tom's first Musky, caught on a fly.

Tom’s first Musky, caught on a fly.

 

Tainter and Knapp Creek in April   5 comments

On Friday Stephen and I took a drive out to the Kickapoo River Valley to fish the fine waters of Tainter Creek. This river is loaded with fish. Perhaps I shouldn’t kiss and tell, as they say, but seriously, if you don’t already know about Tainter Creek, well, you need to talk to more fishermen.

For those of you who are angry about my use of stream names in my trip reports, I’m sorry. But it’s nothing you couldn’t get from reading a few books, going to a few fly shops, and attending a TU meeting once in a blue moon. Isn’t it sort of like saying there are Musky in Lake Minoqua, or that there are Steelhead in the Brule?

But, I digress.

The thing about trout fishing is that it isn’t a given you’ll catch the trout. Stephen and I started the day looking down into a pool from a bridge over Tainter Creek, where we spied perhaps 250 fish. We fished that pool a few hours later and caught exactly two trout from it. Some days the fish are willing. Other days, they’re obstinate.

After a lunch in the car we fished upstream from the bridge and found more fish, only some of which were willing. The sections we fished on Friday were gorgeous, natural, healthy and thriving with life.

We wrapped up fishing toward late afternoon, found a camp, and then headed to Soldier’s Grove for some food. On the way we crested the ridge between the Tainter Creek Valley and the Kickapoo River Valley, and Stephen’s phone chimed. He checked it and found a message from John Jackels, who said he was in Readstown and hoping to find us. We had driven down the hill a ways and Stephen had lost his signal, so I backed up about an eighth mile to regain the summit, and we gave John a call. He was ten minutes north of Soldier’s Grove, and we were ten minutes west of it. How about that?!

I really wish Soldier’s Grove had a bar with some good food. Or maybe my problem is that I picked the wrong thing to eat. I had the fried fish (Haddock, I think), with “baby red” potatoes. John had the same thing. Stephen had the baked fish with garlic mashed potatoes. My fish was akin to eating breaded and deep fried eraser. The baby reds were really just Russet potatoes cut into chunks the size of baby red potatoes, deep fried and sprinkled with canned parmesan cheese. Stephen’s baked fish was like eating a piece of bone that had been boiled long enough to turn it into a gelatinous lump. His garlic mashed potatoes tasted like pizza.

I’m in a critical mood today. Sorry.

After dinner we got some coffee and eggs from the gas station to prepare breakfast on Saturday, then we headed back to the campsite, made a fire, shot the shit, and went to bed.

Saturday dawned cold and breezy. We had breakfast on the road and headed downstream. We fished what I believe are some of the finest runs of trout water in the state. We all got several nice fish to hand and enjoyed the morning immensely.

We had lunch on the road and then hit a pretty section of Tainter where some “restoration” work had recently taken place.

I suppose after a few years these restored sections come back with vigor, but the section we visited was a ghost town. No fish spotted, and the habitat was much less varied than natural areas. It’s sort of like fishing a golf course. A thing that’s concerning about these projects is that, in the natural world, streams move and meander and find their way. The strategy used for restoration means the creek won’t move. It will stay in its channel for a good long while. Is this a problem? Does it exclude other species besides trout? I didn’t see a single creature moving around in this restored section, whereas the area we fished in the morning was full of birds and voles and stuff. I hope these restorations are being done in a way that considers all of this.

We wrapped up our trip on Knapp Creek, where we came upon a woman walking back along the road after a good day of fishing. Her face said it all. The fish were rising, she had said. We parked and dove in and, sure enough, rising fish! I got one out of a deep pool on a dry. It’s silvery body came from down deep and it shot out of the water straight through the fly. What a great catch!

Tired and happy, we made our way back home after a great trip to the Driftless.

All weekend, by the way, I had great success using a “black tadpole” streamer fly, shown in the fish pic below, with a “brassie” dropper. I got fish on both of these and I’m really a fan of this tandem rig. It seems the bashful fish are willing to go after the small brassie, while the outgoing (and usually, bigger) fish are all about gobbling up the black tadpole.

 

Breakfast on the road.

Breakfast on the road.

 

Tainter Creek Brook Trout caught on my own "black tadpole"

Tainter Creek Brook Trout caught on my own “black tadpole”

 

Stephen Rose casting on Tainter Creek

Stephen Rose casting on Tainter Creek

 

John Jackels on Tainter Creek

John Jackels on Tainter Creek

 

Stephen and John work out wind knots on Tainter.

Stephen and John work out wind knots on Tainter.

 

Lunch on the road.

Lunch on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bupkis on the Brule   5 comments

bup·kis (bêp-kês) – noun: absolutely nothing; nothing of value, significance, or substance.

Small, round fecal pellets, referring to the shape of goat droppings.

A colorful Yiddish phrase: “Bupkis mit Kudachas”, translating roughly to “shivering shit balls”.

 

8-wt rods stand at the ready

8-wt rods stand at the ready

 

Stephen Rose, John Jackels and I went up to the Brule River in Douglas County, Wisconsin last Thursday night to take part in the annual fall pursuit of Brule River Steelhead. We went with a cocky sureness that we’d be heros, and we left cold and damp, shivering and sunken.

 

Heading North alongside the Brule Valley

Heading North alongside the Brule Valley

 

The rains in October were said to have made for a nice fall run, not at all like the anemic fall run of 2011. Hopes were high for perhaps a dozen fish during our three day outing. But instead, our lines laid limp in the water while we endured soggy-cold skies and frigid water. We saw a few fish roll and jump but none wanted to play.

Midway through the trip we were so unsure of ourselves that Stephen gave our guide friend Tim Pearson a call to confirm that there were, in fact, still steelhead swimming up the Brule River. He assured Stephen that there were, and encouraged us to keep trying, saying that the most important part of Steelheading is having that fly in the water, working hard to present it with a dead drift.

So after a lunch at the Kro Bar we were back on the water doing our thing.

 

This is Steelheading on the Brule River

This is Steelheading on the Brule River

 

After more of the same we retreated to camp, dry gas station firewood in hand, and Stephen cooked up some venison steaks and tomato soup. Staring into a campfire on a cold fall evening can lift even the most weary angler’s soul. And a superlative sleep in a Hennessy Hammock is a thing that by all rights should be reserved for the gods on Olympus. Don’t be a dink. Get a hammock to camp in.

 

Sleep on a cloud

Sleep on a cloud

 

In the end, the trip was a beautiful thing. The Brule River and the forested valley that it runs through are soul-cleansing, and I’ll plan to go back year after year. And when I hold another chrome trout in my hands it will be all that much sweeter.

 

John and Stephen absorbing heat

John and Stephen absorbing heat

 

 

 

Parenting – An abbreviated Treatise   1 comment

The opener is this Saturday. I plan to stay local for much of the season. I’ll take a few trips further afield, but I’m scheming to get intimately familiar with water that is within thirty minutes of home and work. An hour here and an hour there will make up the bulk of my fishing time this season.

My friend Stephen Rose on local water, Driftless, Wisconsin

My friend Stephen Rose on local water, Driftless, Wisconsin

Weekend trips this year are going to involve my three young sons and a few good campsites, and there will likely be more variety to my weekend Driftless Area stream time. Whatever it takes to keep it fun for my kids, that’s where I’m trying to aim. I want them to want to join me in trout country. I’m building relationships with them that I hope will grow into their love of the same places I love. If that takes campfires and marshmallows, lunches at the local burger joint, and a few hands of UNO at the campsite in the afternoon, I’m game.

Shep at Parfrey's Glen, 2009

Shep at Parfrey's Glen, 2009

I was recently called “the best parent when it comes to making things fun”. It was a compliment, but it was a statement made to temper criticism that followed. The criticism was that I acquiesce to my children when decisions about “what to do” have to be made. It’s not as if I let my children choose to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it. I’m not a wet noodle that bends to their every demand. But I’ll admit, I fall into the role of joining them as boys in the activities we share. I want my kids to like me, to want to invite me along when I’m an old man.

Childhood is not only about “Protestant-Work-Ethic” character building via depravity and rigid time management. It is just as important, perhaps more important, for children to understand what they have to fall back on when they need some reprieve from the trying times that come from all directions in a person’s life.

Let's dig a hole in the backyard! (Madison, WI 2009)

Let's dig a hole in the backyard! (Madison, WI)

When I think back to my boyhood I don’t remember with fondness those things that adults had me do to “prepare me” for the real world. I remember spending time with my mom, dad, and sister, or my neighborhood buddies, doing things out in nature or around the neighborhood, exploring unfamiliar places, revisiting familiar ones. I remember my dad waking up on Saturday morning just in time to watch Looney Tunes with me and my sister, and I thought it was so cool that he took an interest in something I really liked! And I also remember the excitement of being invited to partake in activities that my parents liked too.

My dad, The Man. (Cedarburg, WI, 2011)

My dad, The Man. (Cedarburg, WI, 2011)

My dad had plenty of “advice” for me that I didn’t appreciate and still don’t take any stock in. However, he’s been more than open to trying things I’ve discovered on my own so that he can share experiences with me. That’s the approach I’m trying to take with my sons. Show them things I like. Try things that they like. Meet in the middle. Skip out on responsibilities once in a while for the sake of freedom and fun, to feel like you’ve got some say in your life. Not all the time, but rules can and should be bent once in a while. Like that time in 8th grade my parents took my sister and me out of school for a whole week to go skiing in Montana. There’s one I’ll never forget.

Camping in the Trees   2 comments

You may or may not have known this, but camping in the trees beats sleeping on the ground any day. Hennessey makes the finest hammocks around. Stephen and I each used a Hennessy on our trip to the Brule River last week, and from setting up camp in a flash at 2am to packing up camp at 5am in a flash, I had the best three hours of sleep I’ve ever experienced. The next night was great too, when I slept from 9pm to 7am.

I highly recommend you give this way of camping a go. You’ll feel so much better in the morning.

Stephen admires a Hennessy Hammock slung in the Brule River Forest

Stephen admires a Hennessy Hammock slung in the Brule River Forest